St. Andrew’s Day

Growing up as an Nth generation American, none of my ancestral heritage was passed down to me. My dad’s family sort of knew they came from Wales and had some Cherokee blood in there somewhere. My mom’s family thought the might be Scottish. Getting past the Blevins and Blackwood names, I know even less of the families they married into. One thing I am sure of genealogically is that I am a Celtic mutt. 

My goal is to prune away generations of cultural neglect to find the beautiful rose of my mixed Celtic heritage. It’s a bit fun to wade through the ambiguity to find fact. Some of it requires a measure of common sense and creativity to decipher. My Dad’s mom’s mom was Lottie Ervin Stinson, which originally was Stevenson many generations ago in Scotland. So “Stevenson” pronounced with a thick Scottish brogue was “Stee’enson”, which over time and as recorded by various census takers became “Stinson”. Coincidentally, My Dad’s dad’s mom’s mom, Laura Ada Stinson, came from the same line of Stinsons.

With that said, here is an excellent piece from the University of Oxford Press on St. Andrews Day:

Celebrating Scotland: St Andrew’s Day:
30 November is St Andrew’s Day, but who was St Andrew? The apostle and patron saint of Scotland, Andrew was a fisherman from Capernaum in Galilee. He is rather a mysterious figure, and you can read more about him in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. St Andrew’s Day is well-established and widely celebrated by Scots around the world. To mark the occasion, we have selected quotations from some of Scotland’s most treasured wordsmiths, using the bestselling Oxford Dictionary of Quotations and the Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

There are few more impressive sights in the world than a Scotsman on the make.
J. M. Barrie 1860-1937 Scottish writer

Robert Burns 1759-96 Scottish poet

From the lone shielding of the misty island
Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas –
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland,
And we in dreams behold the Hebrides!
John Galt 1779-1839 Scottish writer

O Caledonia! Stern and wild,
Meet nurse for a poetic child!
Sir Walter Scott 1771-1832 Scottish novelist

Hugh MacDiarmid 1892-1978 Scottish poet and nationalist

O flower of Scotland, when will we see your like again,
that fought and died for your wee bit hill and glen
and stood against him, proud Edward’s army,
and sent him homeward tae think again.
Roy Williamson 1936-90 Scottish folksinger and musician

I love a lassie, a bonnie, bonnie lassie,
She’s as pure as the lily in the dell.
She’s as sweet as the heather, the bonnie bloomin’ heather –
Mary, ma Scotch Bluebell.
Harry Lauder 1870-1950 Scottish music-hall entertainer

Robert Crawford 1959– Scottish poet

My poems should be Clyde-built, crude and sure,
With images of those dole-deployed
To honour the indomitable Reds,
Clydesiders of slant steel and angled cranes;
A poetry of nuts and bolts, born, bred,
Embattled by the Clyde, tight and impure.
Douglas Dunn 1942– Scottish poet

Who owns this landscape?
The millionaire who bought it or
the poacher staggering downhill in the early morning
with a deer on his back?
Norman McCaig 1910–96 Scottish poet

The Little Oxford Dictionary of Quotations fifth edition was published in October this year and is edited by Susan Ratcliffe. The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations seventh edition was published in 2009 to celebrate its 70th year. The ODQ is edited by Elizabeth Knowles.

The Oxford DNB online has made the above-linked lives free to access for a limited time. The ODNB is freely available via public libraries across the UK. Libraries offer ‘remote access’ allowing members to log-on to the complete dictionary, for free, from home (or any other computer) twenty-four hours a day. In addition to 58,000 life stories, the ODNB offers a free, twice monthly biography podcast with over 130 life stories now available. You can also sign up for Life of the Day, a topical biography delivered to your inbox, or follow @ODNB on Twitter for people in the news.

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The Clan System

An informative article from the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs:

The Clan System:
The clan system as we know it today was created over the course of a few years in the first quarter of the 19th century.

The clan system as we know it today was created over the course of a few years in the first quarter of the 19th century. At its heart were the novels of Walter Scott who triggered an extraordinary revival of interest in the Highlands and Highland history. This was sealed by the visit of King George IV to Edinburgh in 1822 when, to the bewilderment of many Lowlanders, the capital – and the king – were decked in tartan and alien pipe music accompanied every function.

In its aftermath Clan Societies and Highland Societies sprang up across Scotland. Thousands wanted a Highland heritage and sought a connection with a clan so that they could wear the new tartans, declared by the chiefs to have been worn as a badge of identity since time immemorial.

And the new clan societies and the manufacturers of tartan were pleased to accommodate them. The concept of septs and associated names was created, those of different surnames from that born by the clan chief who had lived within the old territory of a clan territory and been part of it. The more septs a clan could claim, the more members a clan society would gain and the more kilts would be sold. The Clan Chattan federation managed to list more than 1200, Clan Campbell over 650. Many of these names were claimed by more than one clan.

Surnames came late to Gaeldom; many were based on occupations. Gows – smiths – would have been present in every clan territory. The MacIntyres are a full blown clan, but the name means son of the carpenter and carpenters would have been ubiquitous. Similarly most Johns or Ians had a son – McIan. And men anywhere could have been red-haired, fair or dark – Reid,  Bain and Dow. In a few cases most of those living within a clan’s territory did adopt the name of the chief. Simon, Lord Lovat went further. To enlarge his clan he gave a boll of meal to anyone who changed his name to Fraser.

Modern genealogical research has shown that few within any clan have a blood relationship with the chief’s family. And many who bear sept surnames find that their ancestors never had any connection with the declared clan or even its territory. Some are now seeking to become clans in their own right with their own chiefs. And surely this should be encouraged.  Cumberland destroyed the original clan culture. Scott’s followers turned it into romantic myth and adapted it for their own times. If it has been re-invented once, why should it not be changed again to what people want in this century?

This article was previously published on Panalba.

I had always heard growing up that my mother’s family (Blackwood) was Scottish, so I did a little research. They were Ulster Scots, having moved to northern Ireland from Scotland, and a sept of Clan Douglas. Being the consummate skeptic that I am, I wrote a letter the Court of the Lord Lyon to inquire what rights I have to bear the Clan Douglas crest badge. I explained in it my paternal Welsh heritage and maternal Scots heritage. They replied back that though my father’s family wasn’t Scottish, I was entitled to bear the emblems of Clan Douglas based on my maternal ancestry.

Now I haven’t started eating haggis or wearing a Prince Charlie jacket and kilt around, but I might sport a Balmoral with a crest badge at the Stone Mountain Highland Games this fall.

Join the aristocracy – become a Scottish Laird, Lord or Lady!

I recently ran across website that says for £29.99 ($47.74) one can become a ‘real’ titled laird of Scotland. Given that my maternal family are Blackwoods and came from Scotland, I thought what a great novelty to have hanging in my study (whenever I get a study…). I’m an American, and its not like I can bear a title and be all haighfalutin anyway, so what harm could it do?

[Note: Try as I might, I am not an expert in my family’s history. If I say something below that is incorrect, you would be my friend in pointing it out to me.]

Join the aristocracy – become a Scottish Laird, Lord or Lady!:
Have you ever dreamt of being a member of the aristocracy? Of having an impressive title before your name? Well, here is your chance. For only £29.99 we can provide you with a perfectly legal hereditary title and ownership of land in Scotland.

According to old Scots law and custom a landowner is granted the right to use the title ‘Laird’ and female landowners are styled as ‘Lady’. Some male Lairds choose instead to use the more well-known English translation ‘Lord’. Scottish Lairds are members of the lower aristocracy and historically held feudal rights under the crown. In the table of precedence a Laird ranks above an Esquire and directly below a Baron.

By purchasing a plot of land on the Blackwood Estate in Scotland you will acquire the right to style yourself Laird, Lord or Lady of Blackwood. At the same time you will contribute to the preservation of Loch Wood, one of Scotland’s few remaining native woodlands. What better way to start your new life as a member of the aristocracy than to embrace your own favourite charity?

As Laird, Lord or Lady of Blackwood you will also be granted the exclusive right to wear the Blackwood coat-of-arms and tartan, that may not be used by others than the rightful owners of land on the Blackwood Estate. The coat-of-arms will look very impressive on your stationery and business cards. We also provide various aristocratic accessories imprinted with the Blackwood coat-of-arms in our webshop.

As a member of the elevated classes you may wish to take up other Scottish lordly pursuits, such as wearing the kilt, fishing for salmon or even playing the bagpipe if the fancy takes you! And do not be surprised if your new title brings about some added perks, like plane upgrades and other preferential treatment. It’s been known to happen. The Lairdship Portfolio will also make a perfect gift for someone special.

Buy land on the Blackwood Estate and commence your new life of entitlement today!

Below is a map of the location of the property one could buy a plot in.


A few things seemed out of place to me. First off, it’s my understanding that the Blackwoods were a sept of the lowlands Douglas Clan. There were noble Blackwoods that have been recorded in history, but in Scotland and Northern Ireland, which seems to have been a layover, at least for my ancestors, on their way to America. There are no claims to a Blackwood Clan on this site, but it wanted to make the point clear.

Next is the ‘coat-of-arms’. Per the Court of the Lord Lyon:

There is a widespread misconception that a family or a clan can have a family or clan Coat of Arms. Many heraldic and clan web sites and other media suggest that a person has the right to use the family or clan Arms. This is completely incorrect.

Third on the hit list is the tartan. Per the Scottish Tartans Authority this tartan was:

Designed for the exclusive use of the owner and the souvenir plot owners of Loch Wood on the Blackwood Estate Lanarkshire.

So what one has a right to are the corporate arms and tartan of an entity stood up to sell titles to parcels of land and other branded merchandise that looks heraldic. So what about the ‘title’? Can a trifle like £29.99 be all it takes to be ennobled? Maybe hundreds of years ago before mass inflation debased the pound. I would wager that one would be hard pressed to get a meal at an upscale restaurant for that amount. The Telegraph had an article back in 2004 on this topic, although the land in question was in
Glencairn. From the article:

The Court of the Lord Lyon, which deals with heraldic matters and coats of arms in Scotland, said the Glencairn title – like the many others on offer – was “meaningless”.

A spokesman said: “We have had countless inquiries. The title Laird of Glencairn would only apply to the owner of the entire estate, if it exists, not to those buying square-foot portions of it.”

It was decided five years ago that the sale of such plots would not be recorded in the national register of Scotland, and therefore there is no proper legal record of the miniature land sales.

Critics say the adverts wrongly claim the word laird – Scots for landowner- is interchangeable with lord. But it simply means landowner, whether titled or not.

A website mentioned in the article also has some interesting information if you’d like further reading.

So back to the idea of what harm it could do. For one thing, it diminishes the value of the titles of true Lords and Ladies. It makes a mockery of an institution of British heritage, which you don’t have to be British to admire. I know in the modern world we are all equal and there is no such thing as privilege, and the system of nobility was undermined (for the most part) nearly a century ago, but it is a matter of principle. There are still noble families that have maintained their holdings for hundreds of years. I don’t think they are or were God’s elect, but they for better or worse helped shape the course of the nations of the United Kingdom. And there have been legitimate purchases of titles in the past, but they cost a wee bit more than £29.99, and they didn’t come from a private corporation.

Therefore, despite my draw to the novelty of it, I don’t think I will become Lord Blevins of Blackwood, lest I become the laughingstock of my family and an embarrassment to all who know me.

Update ( 16 January 2017): It appears years after my original post the Laird of Blackwood site is still very much alive. For the low price of £29.99 ($36.13 as of this update) you get the following:

  • 1 square foot of first rate Scottish estate – Of course, this is all bunk.As previously noted, the souvenir plot is not deeded, nor recorded. If one were to tramp around the forest, I doubt very much they would find their 1 square foot “fiefdom”. If one wants a more legitimate square foot plot of land in Scotland, I’d recommend just buying a bottle of Laphroaig Scotch and redeeming the code that comes with it for a souvenir plot at their distillery on the Isle of Islay. The bottle of Scotch will cost a wee bit more than the Laird scam does, but unlike the fake title, you could theoretically pass the bottle down to your descendants, but they might prefer you just share it with them now.
  • The right to style yourself as Laird, Lord or Lady of BlackwoodAgain, baloney. One square foot of land does not a laird make. A fool maybe, but not a laird.
  • Exclusive right to use the Blackwood insigniaBlackwood is not a clan, it is a sept of Clan Douglas, ergo, there is no Blackwood insignia recognized in the clan system. They perpetrators of this scam may have a logo they use and allow others to use, but it is not what people think it is. It is made out to look like a clan crest, but it has not standing with the Court of the Lord Lyon. It’s not historic, its just a drawing.
  • Exclusive right to use the Blackwood (Loch Wood) district tartan – Alas, this is properly registered. If one buys a souvenir plot, per the restrictions detailed in the Scottish Register of Tartans, this particular tartan is limited to use by “owners” of said souvenir plots. Granted, I highly doubt one would want to show up at their local highland games wearing a kilt of this; it might be a bit embarrassing.
    loch_wood_tartan
    Any Blackwood wishing to wear a tartan with familiar significance should wear one of the Douglas variants, such as this:
    douglas_gray_tartan
  • A legal Title Deed to your property, signed, sealed and printed on vellum parchment, which will make a very elegant wall displayI’m sure it does 🙂
  • A Master Title Deed to change your title on bank accounts, credit cards and other IDThe spin on this is that the “title” isn’t recognized anywhere, and Scots by and large aren’t the ones falling for the scam, its Americans trying to reconnect to lost family heritages that they don’t understand primarily. I’ve expounded on the notion several times.
  • An impressive Certificate of Entitlement, printed on vellum parchmentThis “certificate of entitlement” is worthless: only the Sovereign of the United Kingdom is the fons honorum and able to grant titles in Scotland. Granted, this scam skirts this through some obscurities in ancient feudal law, but again, lairds are the holders of sizable estates, not square foot souvenir  plots.
  • A Plot Locator Map with road directions and the official OS grid reference coordinates to your land, including directions on how to find it hassle-freeI’m not going to knock this one; it probably would be fun to go exploring in the forest.
  • Stunning photos and useful information regarding Loch Wood and the Blackwood EstateThere’s not a lot of useful information on the village of Blackwood nor the Blackwood Estate (or what is left of it) online, so if Native Woods Preservation Ltd has useful information, that might be of value.
  • A letter of greeting from us at Native Woods Preservation LtdMeh.
  • A stylish gift folder imprinted with the original Blackwood coat-of-arms and tartan in full coloursDon’t get me started on coats of arms; more on that topic here.
  • A Blackwood insignia adhesive labelsee my comment on the insignia above.
  • Access to the beautiful grounds of Loch WoodThis needs more research. There was a historical Blackwood Estate, but I can find no record that Native Woods Preservation Ltd owns the land they are selling souvenir plots on. 
  • The knowledge that you are supporting a good causeReally, I understand the feel-good of this notion, but how does one ascertain that it is for a good cause?

I’m not the only person to comment on this particular scam, and maybe scam it too strong a word, but I’ll stick with it. Another site called LairdReviews.com has an entry on Native Woods Preservation Ltd. This site states:

The domain that sells the Laird of Blackwood title is owned in Torrance, California – part of Los Angeles.  Not very Scottish.  The site claims to be run by a UK Company, Native Woods Preservation Ltd, formed in February 2010 by a Norwegian, Siri Margaret Kvaløy and run from an office in Glasgow.  Not very Scottish either. Siri is a Norwegian property developer who moved to Glasgow from her native Oslo in 2010.

Also, the site goes into detail about the ambiguity of what one is actually purchasing:

Like this site, the Laird of Blackwood site is created with WordPress, using a commercially available eCommerce theme from the themefoundry.  As one of the most recent vendors in our group, we have been impressed with how they have copied the best aspects of the more established vendors and even added a few extras of their own. There is a comprehensive FAQ section, hundreds of personalised accessories, and even a section on how buying from them will help Woodland Preservation, though somehow that lacks conviction. The first disappointment comes with a page describing the land on offer – Loch Wood by the village of Blackwood. Blackwood sits adjacent to the M74 motorway – Scotland’s main arterial route South to England. It is no more in the Highlands than London and being a Laird is all about the Highlands.

Another disappointment is that the postal address appears to be a PO Box and there is no telephone number to call. Why are so may of these Title sellers so secretive? There is no email address either, but we did send our standard set of questions using the contact form. Two days later we had an informative reply from Margaret (Kvaløy), advising us that they did define the plots using OS grid references, documents would be shipped within a week (but no, they would not accept returns) and we were directed to their range of accessories.

Really the worrying things about this web site are not what is there – which are generally impressive, but what is not there. There is no information about who is behind the venture, no office that can be contacted (other than the forwarding address in Glasgow and the contact form). The site does have an About Us page, it just does not have any information about the people behind Native Woods Preservation Ltd. The only information of note is that the Company bought the wood on finance – hardly reassuring news. There is no information about the site’s attitude towards customer privacy or security. Do they sell customers’ details? Is the site secure? Do they comply with the Data Protection Act?  Who knows. They don’t say.

There is an online forum, which was an excellent otherwise only seen on the sites of LochaberHighland Estates (Highland Titles) and the web site also linked to an informative Facebook page, with a dreary 26 users.

Despite my reservations about the “product” offered, the company appears to be legitimate, as can be ascertained from Companies in the UK. If the financial reporting on that site is accurate, Native Woods Preservation Ltd had assets of £122,103 in 2016, but I still can’t tell what they do, or what they preserve.

I think this and other laird scams play off the vanity of Americans. We claim in America to be an egalitarian society: we are all equal. This is a lie. We don’t want to be equal, we (of European descent) want to be aristocrats. Some of us may have legitimately had noble ancestors, but we want to be better than those around us, but we don’t want to acknowledge our own “betters”.

Most of the people who fall for this scam will never purport to be a Laird of Blackwood, and they probably would never understand that there can only be one laird of any estate, but they want a link to a heritage that wasn’t passed down to them. I can relate with that. My family, whatever noble lineage it had centuries ago, was extinguished centuries ago when the cadet branches crossed the Atlantic to the colonies.

So the moral of the story is this: don’t waste your money buying a fake title. It’s meaningless, and even if its done in a joking manner, it funds a falsehood. If you want to reconnect to your Scottish heritage, join the society of the clan that your family was associated with. I’d wager you get a better return on your investment that way.